A team of 40 Rohingyas reached Bhashan Char in Noakhali’s Hatiya upazila yesterday on a “go-and-see visit” to the island where the government has built an accommodation for one lakh Rohingyas.
Mahbub Alam Talukder, refugee rehabilitation and repatriation commissioner (RRRC), said, “Rohingya majhis [leaders] from Cox’s Bazar camps went to Bhashan Char under the supervision of Bangladesh Army and Navy. They will stay there for three days before returning to Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday.”
Relocation of one lakh Rohingyas would begin after the monsoon season if everything went right, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Additional RRRC Mohammad Shamsuddoza Noyon said the 40 Rohingyas from 34 Rohingya camps were mobilsed at a transit camp at Kutupalong of Ukhiya on Friday night.
In the morning yesterday, they were taken to Chattogram from where they were moved to Bhashan Char on a Bangladesh Navy ship, reports our Cox’s Bazar correspondent, quoting the additional RRRC as saying.
Shamsuddoza said the trip was part of a motivational programme.
The government has built 120 cluster villages on the 40 sq km island under a Tk 2,312 crore housing project for one lakh out of the nearly 1 million Rohingyas sheltered in cramped camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Government officials said the houses have been built four feet above the ground with concrete blocks and are protected by a 13-km-long flood embankment. There are also 120 cyclone shelters, which are planned to be used as schools, medical centres and community centres.
The officials also said there are large swathes of land that could be used for rearing livestock and farming fish if the Rohingyas were relocated there. The refugees in Cox’s Bazar camps have a very little work to do now.
The UN and aid agencies have been insisting that the island was isolated, flood-prone and would be hazardous for Rohingyas because of cyclones and tidal surges.
Against such a backdrop, a government delegation visited the housing project on February 13 and considered shelving the idea of relocation.
Speaking to The Daily Star, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Enamur Rahman had said the government would face difficulties in arranging food, healthcare and other necessary services for one lakh people in Bhashan Char without cooperation from those organisations.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen had said if the Rohingyas were shifted to Bhashan Char, they might not agree to leave the place in future. Thus, the government was focusing on Rohingya repatriation, not relocation.
In a reverse of the plan, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at a webinar on August 24 said the 306 Rohingyas rescued from the Bay of Bengal and sheltered in Bhashan Char were doing well. He also hinted at the “go-and-see visit” by the Rohingyas.
“If they find the place better than the cramped camps in Cox’s bazar, we expect to start the initial transfer of Rohingyas there after the Monsoon season,” he added.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR yesterday said it is aware of the “go-and-see visit” to Bhashan Char. It is an important part of ensuring refugees can make an informed choice about voluntary relocation to the island, the UN agency said.
“The safety and protection of refugees are the most important considerations,” said Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, assistant communication officer at the UNHCR Bangladesh.
He said the UN stresses on thorough protection and technical assessments before any relocation to Bhasan Char. He said they have informed the Bangladesh government that the UNHCR would be prepared to undertake a visit to Bhasan Char to assess the accommodation and protection mechanism of the refugees.
“We are awaiting feedback [from the government]. Several months have passed since a group of refugees were transferred to Bhasan Char, and it is now urgent for the UN to have access to them,” Sazzad said.